News

July 27, 2005

Off-duty county police officers will continue to provide security, traffic control and similar services for private organizations, but will receive time-and-a-half overtime pay instead of a flat $35 an hour. For most of them, that will result in a slight  increase in the amount of extra income they can earn.

The new arrangement will not be official until mid-September when County Council is almost certain to enact a pair of ordinances to govern contracted-for police services and to provide $800,000 to set up a revolving fund to pay wages and  employee benefits to officers who take those assignments.

The measures were introduced into Council on Jul. 26  by William Bell, chairman of Council's public safety committee. Because they were not tagged as emergency legislation, the earliest they can be enacted is Sept. 13 when Council returns from its summer recess.

The enabling ordinance appears simply to codify what evidently has been a long-standing ad hoc arrangement. It specifies that officers performing extra duty "shall be subject to the same control, standards and work rules that apply to their regular duty assignments." There is also a provision that contracted-for services not affect normal levels of patrols and other regular police services.

Meanwhile, as previously reported, an investigation by the department's internal affairs unit of extra-duty practices and the off-budget fund which financed them is under way.

In a letter to Council president Paul Clark, County Executive Christopher Coons said he will tap into the police department's overtime budget to allow it to continue to offer off-duty services. "We face the challenge that many members of the public will need these contracted services from our county police and many officers will rely on the additional income provided by this service," Coons wrote.

Testifying at a meeting of Council's finance committee before the Jul. 26 session, chief administrative officer David Singleton said the administration is wary about proceeding with what amounts to the use of public money without specific authorization, but regards that as a necessary expedient. Continuing to have officers available "is important to many organizations which depend on these services," he said.

He indicated that the administration is, in effect, relying on Council's willingness to make everything

retroactively legitimate when it returns from vacation. No council member disagreed on that point.

Speaking broadly of the administration's approach to the situation, Clark declared, "I am in full support of this."

"We have no issue with it," Marge Ellwein told Delaforum after the committee meeting. She is president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge which is the union bargaining agent for county police

Organizations seeking off-duty police services also will be required to act on faith. They will be told that they will be billed after Council acts at whatever rate is deemed necessary to comply with a provision in one of the proposed ordinances which requires that providing off-duty services be

Leave and vacation
called coincidental

Police chief David McAllister agreed to take administrative leave after he returned from vacation, according to communications director Allison Levine.

She said Delaforum's previous report  of  his status before the existence of an investigation was made public was in error.

"It was just a coincidence that they happened at about the same time," she said.

self-supporting.

Singleton said he could not say what the new rate will be, other than that it most likely will be higher than $35 an hour, which organizations now pay. Councilman Jea Street cautioned that it not be priced out of the reach of nonprofits, churches, and other organizations with limited budgets "that are the ones who most need those services."

Singleton told the committee that the off-budget fund from which officers were paid in the past has been frozen. He said its current balance is approximately $250,000.

Since organizations receiving services were charged $35 an hour, the same amount that officers were paid, it is questionable how a quarter of a million dollars was accumulated. "Either somebody didn't get paid or somebody was overcharged," Street said.

Although he carefully skirted providing details about the investigation, Singleton indicated that one aspect of it has to do not only with how the fund was accumulated but also how it was spent beyond providing compensation for the officers. He would only say an initial look into the situation pointed to "some practices that are questionable."

Clark remarked that the fund "was designed to have some extra money at the end of the day." He added that would go "for other uses," but did not elaborate.

Also questionable was the timing of the investigation and the related placing of police chief David McAllister on paid administrative  leave while the investigation is going on.

"This account (the fund) has been around for years. ... Everyone knew the fund existed. It just didn't suddenly come to light," Councilwoman Patty Powell said. Powell is retired after many years of working as a county government employee.

Singleton said he does not know how long the fund and other practices being questioned were in place, but did not dispute Powell's contention that they date back through the administrations of several county executives and tenures of several police chiefs.

He said that the investigation was initiated after Guy Sapp raised questions after taking office as director of public safety in April. McAllister reportedly had also raised questions.

Civic activist Marion Stewart, who attends many Council committee meetings, which are open to the public, asked why McAllister was put on leave when "he didn't create [the fund] and didn't do anything to rock the boat."

Singleton replied that he would not go beyond  the explanation previously given in a press statement which said that McAllister "has a role in administering the fund as well as overseeing internal affairs investigations." The statement also said that "the chief agreed to the leave."

Elwein told Delaforum that police chiefs signed checks drawn on the fund but that, through the years, "there have been any number of people" who were authorized to co-sign. As is common banking practice with organizations' accounts, each check required two signatures.

"No way are we saying there is any situation of guilt," Clark said. Bell added, "It's important that ... we don't draw any conclusions at this time."

An initial assumption has been that paying officers from a separate bank account was a way to avoid a paper trail to those who did not report the extra income as taxable. To the extent that might be so, Singleton said that, effectively immediately, they will receive  the extra compensation in their regular pay checks and it will be reported on Internal Revenue Service W-2 forms.

It is not clear at this point whether 1099 forms, on which the federal tax code requires that miscellaneous income of $600 or more in a year be reported, were issued in the past.

Elwein said that officers are permitted to work an extra 20 hours during any 80-hour pay period. She estimated that, based on rank and length of service, officers, on average,  will now make about $5 an hour more than before.

Michael Strine, the county's chief finance officer, said that another element in the situation is the fact that officers on off-duty jobs routinely use patrol cars and other police equipment and are covered by workers compensation and other insurance. "Taxpayers were bearing the burden of all that," he said.

The finance committee unanimously approved Coons's request that auditor Robert Wasserbach assist in the investigation. Under terms of a recently enacted state law governing the function of the county auditor, his doing so is subject to approval by the audit committee.

 

2005. All rights reserved.

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